Christmas Eve was unique for me his year. We got a last-minute invitation to dinner at my daughter's friend's house. I don't like last-minute things, but I figured we should go and dutifully put on my nice red sweater, poinsettia earrings and black boots.
We were treated to a traditional, homemade Polish Christmas Eve dinner: borshch, golubtsy (stuffed cabbage leaves), pierogi (stuffed dumplings), breads, fish, something made with honey and poppyseeds, and fabulous desserts.
Tradition calls for no alcohol or meat until midnight Christmas Eve. Before we sat down to share the meal, we each took a piece of oplatek, a thin, white wafer. Each person broke off a small bit of wafer from every other person, wishing each other a Merry Christmas. All the while, a fire burned in the gas fireplace and Christmas music filled the house.
I was seated next to the grandfather, who had flown in from Poland a week earlier. He had lived and worked in the U.S. for many years, returning to Poland a couple of years ago. So my concerns about not being able to communicate with him were for naught.
After dinner, the girls sequestered themselves in the friend's room, the mom drove the dad to a party, and the grandfather and I sat and talked about life under communism, Eastern European politics, Russia, how Poland has changed, even photography. We talked about subjects I had studied in college but never had had a chance to explore with someone who actually lived through them. I shared my experiences of living in Moscow. All the while, one of the family's miniature dachshunds slept on her blanket next to me on the couch as I stroked her face.
I am so glad I didn't make up an excuse not to join this family for dinner. This great experience reminds me that I need to be open to new things and experiences, and not to take the easy way out. I could have stayed home and been bored; instead, I had a fabulous meal and interesting conversation. And I got to partake in some Polish customs I knew nothing about until then.
I now have something else to work on in 2011: being consciously open to new possibilities.
Merry Christmas, however you celebrate it.